Our 2600 mile passage to Darwin, Australia, would turn out to be our longest to date -- 23 days in total. When we left New Caledonia, we ended up in very light airs for about 4-5 days so it was slow going for a while. As motoring was out of the question to conserve our precious fuel supply on such a long passage, we just had to take what came our way. Once the winds picked up, we started rocking and rolling our way to Oz....
Once through the Coral Sea, we approached the notorious Torres Strait, a labyrinth of waterways threaded among islands, rocks and reefs. We entered at Bligh Entrance to the north. With all the modern navigation equipment available today, the stress of passing through this area was greatly reduced. Unlike the days of Captain Bligh in 1792 when he went through with the Providence, taking 19 days and often times met with hostile Aborigines, we timed the tides and the currents just right and had an uneventful 26 hours through the Strait, reaching 11 knots of speed upon exiting the Prince of Wales Channel!!
Since entering Australian waters, we were "buzzed" by the Australian Customs Orion aircraft 10 times by the time we got to Darwin. The northern border is very well protected, as Indonesia is only about 90 miles away....
Our trip across the Arafura Sea proved to be the wettest part of the passage, as we sailed in "Wind Warnings" with 30+ knot winds, and building seas. Due to the shallow waters of the Arafura, the seas build quickly and we saw 10 foot waves, with the intermittent 20 footers washing over the deck. Thankfully, our autopilot held the course and we stayed tucked safe and sound below.
One afternoon, we noticed a booby sitting on the stern rail. Upon further inspection, it appeared to be injured -- his chest feathers were covered in blood. He rested for a few hours, then he flew off. About an hour later, a booby was circling the boat again, and it was the same one. He had cleaned himself off in the water as the blood was gone, but you could still see the injury on his chest. He flew to the tower on the stern and sat gazing at the wind generator - could this be "booby love"? We believe he must have flown into it earlier, causing the injury. He stayed most of the night, until a squall came through and he flew off.
Once past Melville and Bathurst Islands (also called the Tiwi Islands), we made our final approach to Darwin via the Beagle Gulf, arriving at first light on day 23. We tied up to the Customs dock at Cullen Bay Marina waiting for clearance. The Fisheries divers examined the hull below the waterline for any "critters" we might have taken along with us (a requirement for any yacht entering the marinas), and nothing was found. All the thru hulls and water intakes were treated with an antibacterial/antifungal/antiviral solution which had to sit for 12 hours, so we spent the first night at the Quarantine dock.
Due to the extreme tides in Darwin, the marina is entered through a lock system. Once through the lock, we berthed in the Cullen Bay Marina for almost a month. Surrounding the marina were numerous restaurants, cafes and bars, a convenient diversion after 23 days at sea! Downtown Darwin was within walking distance which allowed easy access to provisions and supplies needed. Our friend Steve from Australia, has a sister Sue who lives in Darwin, and Sue and her husband Rod were gracious enough to show us around the area. They also had us out to their home, which was situated on five acres on the outskirts of Darwin city. We also explored the Northern Territory further during the month, including renting a car and driving to Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks. Of course the trip wouldn't be complete without the crocodile tour. Needless to say, between the crocodiles and the box jellyfish (for which all the signs on the beaches instruct as first aid for a box jellyfish bite as: Vinegar and RESUSCITATION) the crew of the Iron Mistress did not go swimming! Also while in Darwin, we had a reunion with Jack on "Fantasy" and his crew. Fantasy left the USA with Iron Mistress in 2003 in the Caribbean 1500 rally and we had not seen each other since. We had a great time catching up and sharing sea stories of our trips to date.
The surrounding countryside outside of Darwin is very much like Florida must have looked 50 years ago except for the giant termite mounds (some are 14 feet high). It is vast areas of dry scrub which they refer to as the "bush", punctuated by marshes and "billibongs" (which are pockets of fresh water left during dry season) that are filled with bird life, turtles, fish and the ubiquitous crocodiles. For your own safety, you must not go too close to these areas because of the real danger of a crocodile attack. Crocodiles are extremely fast on dry land and are one of natures ultimate killing machines. They essentially have not changed for millions of years and can smell their prey over 2 miles away.
The other interesting thing about this area is there are constant brush fires. Some are started by lightening, others by controlled burning. They do this to reduce the chance of an out-of-control wildfire during the height of the dry season. The result of this, is that sometimes you can barely see the roads due to smoke, and because of the wind patterns we always had a fine layer of black soot on our boat back at the marina. One good thing is that the constant burning creates spectacular sunsets (especially when at sea) due to the air pollution. Darwinians seem to be oblivious to this fact, but it was quite noticeable to us.
Overall, Darwin is the true outback and has a wild cruising coastline. There are the aforementioned dangerous land and sea critters which dictate where you can go and the vast landscape where you can travel for months and never see the same thing twice. We found the Northern Territory people engaging and friendly and the small marine community there was idyllic in its tropical setting with the constant moan of the trade winds to keep you cool and bright sunny days. But as is always the case, there comes a time where you have to move on. Unfortunately, the cyclone season waits for no one and we have another 6000 miles to go to get to Africa.